COLLEGE PARK — Families with young children in Prince George’s County need to make more than $50,000 a year to cover just their basic living expenses, according to a new report. That figure is up more than 40 percent over the past 10 years, driven largely by the cost of housing, daycare and taxes.

While Prince George’s is the wealthiest majority Black county in the country, the report says families with modest incomes living well above the official poverty line are struggling to make ends meet. People are increasingly turning to the government and social service organizations for help. The monthly average of food stamp applications has increased by 53 percent since 2007, and there was an increase of about 23 percent in the average number of applications received in the county for the Temporary Cash Assistance program, according to Prince George’s County data.

“Caseloads have increased in all assistance programs,” said Paula Tolson, manager of communications services for the Maryland Department of Human Resources.

“The economic downturn impacts every segment of the population.”

The new report, by researchers from the University of Washington School of Social Work, calculates a self-sufficiency standard, which measures the cost of covering basic needs, including child care, housing and food, and calculates the changes in those costs by county.

The federal definition of poverty – the census says the poverty threshold for one parent with one child is about $15,000 a year — is a statistical measure that does not vary geographically, and uses income before taxes.

The current self-sufficiency standard for a family with one adult and one preschooler in Prince George’s County is $50,176. If that family also has a school-aged child, the standard rises to $60,426, and when another adult is added, the figure increases to $66,830. These figures are similar to those in Calvert County, Queen Anne’s County, St. Mary’s County, Frederick County, Carroll County, Harford County and Baltimore County.

“Being a part of the D.C. metro area, the cost of living (in Prince George’s County) is just high,” said Chalita Brandly, senior planner in the Prince George’s County

Planning Department. “I also think we have a greater housing burden than any other metropolitan region. They have a higher median income, but we still have more and more people paying more for housing when they can’t afford it.”

Increases in the cost of basic needs means that only two of the 10 most common jobs in Maryland, registered nurses and general managers, pay a median wage high enough for that standard to be met.

2010 Census data show that 32.6 percent of households in Prince George’s County, or 98,150 households, are earning $50,000 per year or less, which is the annual cost of covering basic living needs for families with young children, according to the report. The highest costs for the county are childcare, housing and taxes.

Stephan Wildish, a lieutenant at the Prince George’s Salvation Army, said the organization sees anywhere from 200 to 300 people a month receiving services that include emergency assistance, housing, substance-abuse treatment, and emergency disaster services. “We see the usual people coming in and receiving assistance, but we also see newcomers. And we have seen a lot more newcomers recently because of the economy,” Wildish said.

Foreclosures have added to families’ financial problems, Brandly said. “There has been a lot of predatory lending recently, and some buyers that were first-time homeowners were not really aware of what it takes to own a home,” Brandly said.

The report was prepared for the Maryland Community Action Partnership by Dr. Diana M. Pearce, director of the Center for Women’s Welfare at the University of Washington School of Social Work. The University of Washington study did not determine how many working families have incomes below the Self-Sufficiency Standard. Census Bureau data show that roughly 178,875 people in Prince George’s County, about 21 percent of the population, live in families with incomes less than 200 percent of the census poverty threshold. (For a family of four, twice the poverty line would be about $44,000.) The census data counts the elderly and other categories not included in the self-sufficiency calculations for working families.

Catherine Irwin

CNS Special Report